Nationalized Slavery

A policy Italy should dump

By Dave Kopel, research director, Independence Institute, & Carlo Stagnaro, assistant editor of the libertarian review Enclave

1/11/01 12:40 p.m., National Review Online. Italian translation. More by Kopel on Italy.

Italy has what lots of American politicians want for the U.S.: slavery. Of course it's not actually called "slavery." Rather, it's called "national service," in which for many years every 18-year-old male has been conscripted to serve in the military or in civil service. America's Founders recognized conscription as a form of slavery. The modern Italian experience suggests that their loathing of conscription was well-founded.

Those who must serve under the military or some kind of welfare-state-related organization are not free men. They are kidnapped for a bit less than a year and have to obey orders against their will.

Do you think these are strong words? If so, consider what a slave really is. He is a person who must do whatever his master likes. The master decides the way of "paying" him without any form of contract. The slave does not have the right to refuse the job and look for another one. A young conscript is in the same position. He must take orders from some general or other officer in the Army, or the Navy, and so on.

If he's a "conscientious objector," he has to work for a "humanitarian" organization, chosen by some government officer from a list compiled by politicians. Most of these organizations are leftist and take care of illegal immigrants or addicts; these organizations get a lot of zero-cost labor thanks to their friends in the parliament.

True, the conscript soldier and the conscript janitor at the drug-addict center get a pittance — as much as they need to buy a packet of cigarettes a day.

Recently, Italy abolished compulsory military service. It would make sense to abolish compulsory civil service too. But some politicians are proposing a plan that would actually expand the number of slaves. Some of the same people who supported the abolition of military conscription are asking for a compulsory civil service for both men and women. This means that every Italian citizen who is 18 years old will work for ten months under those who have made and are making their fortunes thanks to public intervention.

Until this year, military service was the norm, while civil service was only for conscientious objectors. Conscientious objectors are now forbidden, for life, to have permits to carry firearms. In fact, it is said that if you chose the civil service, you must hate arms. No matter that the conscientious objector may not have been opposed to weapons per se, but may have opposed being conscripted into a standing army. Thomas Jefferson would have felt this way.

Even for conscripts who objected to militarism per se, it's not necessarily true that they have to have moral objections to using guns for sporting purposes, such as target shooting.

The real reason that an objector can't get firearms is this: if you chose the civil service, maybe you don't like your government, or at least you don't like its foreign policy. So it's better if you are completely unarmed. The right to keep and bear arms is strongly limited for all in Italy, but if you have been an objector, you simply don't have that right.

Now that the norm of military service has been abolished, it is unclear whether the large numbers of young men being drafted into the civil service will be disarmed for the rest of their lives. If the law is modified to the benefit of today's civil-service conscripts, the restrictions on previous generations of conscientious objectors may remain.  


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